Changing of the guard — House Republicans now the minority party at state legislature

The Colorado Statesman

Results of the 2012 elections were barely two days old, but at Colorado’s Statehouse their effects were almost immediate. House Democrats, with a noticeable bounce in their step as they paraded into the Capitol on Nov. 8, were gleefully celebrating their new elevation as the party in control after their ranks increased to 37 out of 65. House Republicans, who had ruled the roost for the last two years, were considerably less elated with their bump down the leadership ladder. Their counternances were more reserved as they began to digest their new role as the minority party.

The change in power was even more pronounced when members of each caucus separated to elect their leaders for the upcoming 69th General Assembly. Whether it was by coincidence or more aptly poetic justice, the committee rooms where the two caucuses met were directly opposite each other in the bowels of the cavernous state capitol building.

Rep. Frank McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, chose not to run for a leadership position this year. He is pictured opening a box of cigars from caucus members in appreciation for his service as speaker of the House. Reps. Ray Scott and Amy Stephens are seated next to the outgoing speaker.
Photo by Jody Hope Strogoff/The Colorado Statesman

As Republicans were respectfully listening to House Speaker Frank McNulty address his party’s recent descent, Democrats were whooping it up as their five new members — and subsequent majority status — were loudly lauded. And when House Minority Leader Mark Ferrandino was unanimously elected as the incoming speaker of the House, the cheers were audible to their Republican counterparts across the hall, contributing to an even more subdued tone to the GOP proceedings.

Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, thanks caucus members for the beautiful flowers, presented to her by fellow Rep. Carole Murray of Castle Rock.
Photo by Jody Hope StrogoffThe Colorado Statesman

McNulty, R-Highlands Ranch, offered brief but dignified remarks. He credited his caucus for its accomplishments over the last two years, reminding legislators that they had worked with a bipartisan approach to pass a budget 64 to 1.

Their work is not done, McNulty stressed, noting that there remain differences with the Democrats on spending priorities, taxation and business regulations. He promised that their caucus would stay strong and work to present common sense proposals. “I look forward to what we can accomplish over the next two years,” he said.

Afterwards, he was presented with a thank you gift from his caucus — a box of cigars. “This is wonderful,” McNulty responded. “I will have a lot more time on my hands.”

State Rep. Amy Stephens, R-Monument, was equally upbeat as she surveyed the Republican class for 2013. “This class of freshmen is amazing,” she started off. “Small, but mighty.”

She said serving with McNulty as his number two lieutenant had truly been a highlight of her time at the legislature. She said she looks forward to working with new leadership come January, and told the new recruits as well as veterans that they are part of an historic institution at the Capitol. “How we operate in this institution matters,” she stated.

Then it was time to elect leaders for the new House GOP caucus. McNulty and Stephens did not run for positions, and fellow El Paso County Republican Rep. Mark Waller was voted in as Minority Leader. He was nominated by Rep. Jerry Sonnenberg and elected by acclamation. As he rose to accept his new leadership slot, Waller looked around at the diminuitive caucus.

“Seems that a couple years ago there were a lot more people here,” Waller lamented.

He began his tenure as the Republicans’ top man in the House by recognizing the accomplishments made over the last two years. They included the near unanimous passage of a budget last year, as McNulty had mentioned, as well as the repeal of “some of the onerous” taxes passed by Democrats in the past.

“We have an even greater responsibility now in moving forward,” Waller added, “because we will be a voice. It is incumbent upon us to work hard and have that vision.”

State Rep. Carole Murray, who served as caucus chair during the last session, was nominated for assistant minority leader by Rep. Don Coram of Montrose. Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, offered a second.

Murray cited her experience in organizational development obtained from past posts with the state chamber of commerce and the county clerks association. Murray, of Douglas County, said her experience in office over the last four years provided her with the ability to move easily into the new leadership slot.

Rep.-elect Dan Nordberg of Colorado Springs nominated Rep. Libby Szabo of Arvada for assistant minority leader. The nomination was seconded by Sonnenberg.

Szabo stressed three main points in her brief “campaign” for the leadership job. First, she cited the need for a “fresh face” for the position. “We need a new person... to create integrity” she notioned, “so that the same things won’t happen over and over again.”

She also pointed out that her district is in Jefferson County, or “ground zero” during the past election. She said she knows how to recruit candidates and raise money.

And third, Szabo pointed out that Repubicans didn’t fare well with women and Latinos in the recent elections. “I am a woman Latino and it would speak big if we’re not just talking about reaching out, but putting one in leadership. That would speak volumes,” she said.

Szabo was elected to the post.

House Republicans also elected state Rep. Kathleen Conti, R-Littleton, as caucus chair; and state Rep. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, as caucus whip.

Jody@coloradostatesman.com